- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general is investigating an incident involving 14 Syrian passengers aboard a flight from Detroit to Los Angeles last summer described by many federal air marshals and passengers as a dry run for a terrorist attack.

The investigation began shortly after the June 29 incident, but did not become public until the final phase of the inquiry when passengers reported facing hours of questioning in March from inspectors.

The interviewed passengers said the questioning by inspectors suggested the flight had faced a serious situation. Some federal officials have dismissed the incident and suggested passengers had overreacted and were never in danger.

Annie Jacobsen, a passenger on Northwest Flight 327 who blew the whistle on the incident, said she felt “vindicated and relieved” after learning the investigation had been ongoing since July.

She consented to an interview, the last scheduled by the inspector’s office, three days before the due date of her second child. “I really wanted to hear what they had to say, and as I told them, I have absolutely nothing to hide.”

Mrs. Jacobsen, a writer for womenswallstreet.com, said the 14 men traveling as musicians consecutively filed in and out of restrooms, stood nearly the entire flight in congregations, carried a McDonald’s bag into the lavatory and passed it to other Syrians, and carried cameras and cellular phones to the restroom.

Just before landing, seven of the men stood in unison and went inside the restrooms. Upon returning to his seat, the last man mouthed the word “no” as he ran his finger across his throat.

At least four other passengers also were questioned, and learned from inspectors that the musicians from the terrorist-sponsor state of Syria had traveled back and forth across the country with one-way, cash-paid tickets, and entered the country on P-3 cultural visas. Two months prior to the flight, the FBI issued a warning that terrorists may be trying to enter the country under P-3 cultural or sports visas.

When the men were detained briefly for questioning after the flight, only two of the 14 were questioned and officials did not notice the men’s visas had expired, inspectors said.

Dave Adams, spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, said the inspector general’s office is “looking at all aspects of the flight” and confirmed marshals aboard the flight had been interviewed.

“I’ve said publicly our federal air marshals acted appropriately on that flight, other than that, I’m not going to make any more comments on that,” Mr. Adams said.

Mr. Adams initially dismissed Mrs. Jacobsen’s account as coming from “untrained civilian eyes,” in spite of other passenger reports backing her account.

Inspectors also confirmed to Mrs. Jacobsen that September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was on a flight prior to that attack with actor James Woods, who reported to the pilot he believed a hijacking was about to take place. Mr. Woods has recounted that incident to reporters, but it has never been substantiated by law enforcement.

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